Recently in Retreat Architecture Category

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mr. Rawles:
Although filtered HVAC systems make for comfortable and healthy inside air quality, even the most efficient draw heavily on AC mains. Insulated airtight walls and windows reduce heat loss and in windy areas reduce dirt infiltration. I would never consider powering a cooling system with solar power but heater blower motors can be so powered. This works well for dual stage furnaces that switch from heat pump to natural gas or propane for emergency heat. Fireplaces are as old as houses but rather than just building any old firebox, I researched fireplace design.

When building my ranch headquarters on the prairie, I thought about using bullet resistant glass but this was ruled out considering light loss and real value per cost. Instead I choose windows meeting Dade County, Florida hurricane specifications. Windows and importantly their frame extrusions and locks meeting these requirements are tested for shatter resistance and high wind load. Of course no window is better than the house framework into which it is mounted. Although not highly bullet resistant, these style windows present a considerable obstacle to someone seeking unlawful egress by breaking a window.

Windows meeting Dade County requirements are available in single or multiple pane configurations and in casement or sash design. Due to high wind loads in the Texas Panhandle I choose casement windows because the harder the wind blows, the better this type window seals. In retrospect, I should have included at least one sash window per house side. Sash windows are better suited for use with external shutters and afford easier egress in the event an emergency evacuation is required.

The main entry to my ranch headquarters is via a courtyard. Courtyards provide enhanced security and reduce wind. Inside the house, I designed a ten foot long entry foyer to further reduce heat loss and wind borne dirt infiltration. A second reinforced entry door was located at the end of the foyer for increased security. All external and bedroom doors are dead bolted and equipped with Rocky Mountain cane bolts. Internal doors are 2 7/8” thick mahogany. I chose sturdy Cantera metal clad exterior doors with of course a Dade County glass specification.

Portions of the house perimeter walls were constructed of fiberglass entrained, rebar reinforced, poured in place concrete. Now concrete is an extremely poor insulator so I framed with 2x6s, filling the framed in walls and ceiling with spray in insulation. Not wanting to introduce a fire hazard, I tried to burn a small piece of the insulation and was impressed by its flame resistance. I cannot recommend this insulation highly enough. A bottle of water was left inside all winter long in the unheated house during construction and it never froze even when the outside temperature dropped to -10F. Chilly this house might be if unheated, but one could live there without supplemental heat.

After product comparison, I choose two Lennox high efficiency furnace/heat pump systems with emergency propane back up. I added Lennox UV lights to these systems to reduce mold and bacteria along with Lennox HEPA electrostatic filters, and humidifiers.

Predominately downwind and several hundred yards down hill from the house I poured another concrete structure to house several 900 gallon propane tanks (propane is heavier than air). This propane fuels the HVAC emergency heat and kitchen appliances. The ranch headquarters has two fireplaces, both of Rumford design that may be unfamiliar to your readers. I equipped one with a fireplace crane in case I ever wanted to cook in it. Even though I have all sorts of backup electrical power options for the HVAC systems, I bought a Sopka Magnum cookstove for post-Schumer installation. These stoves offer a high value to cost and can burn both wood and coal.

Having a house that won’t freeze inside when unheated during the coldest winter is of incalculable value. Chilly it may be but with down and wool, one could live and thrive. Having multiple heating/cooking options are essential when Schumer hits the fan. The value of good insulation is apparent to anyone who has cut wood for heat.

I hope these comments are of value to anyone considering new construction.

Sincerely, - Panhandle Rancher

Hello James:
Attached is an e-mail I sent to my daughter.  Her boyfriend is from Honduras and she dreams of doing missionary work there.  I thought it may be of interest to some of your readership.  I left out a great deal of information on building site selection (her boyfriend already owns five acres) and foundations.  There seems to be differences in opinion regarding firmly anchored and sand-bed isolation between footings and walls.  Most of my information was gleaned from the book Technical Principles of Building for Safety (Building for Safety Series) by Coburn.

Dear X.:
I did a little bit of reading this weekend regarding safe house construction in earthquake and hurricane prone regions.  I thought of you since you might be spending significant amounts of time in that part of the world.  Some sobering pictures of what an earthquake can do to masonry structures (Italy) 

Key points for concrete block construction (very common in Honduras):
1. Don't build the house out of masonry, use wood which is lightweight, strong and flexible.....but if you cannot.....
2. Single story construction (probably the single most important thing)
3. Use thick blocks (at least 8" across).  Use good blocks (should ring when blocks are struck with hammer or another block, mortar should be mixed on-site, in small batches by somebody who knows his business.
4. Simple rectangular outline.  Long, skinny houses shake to pieces while those that are closer to square in outline stay together
5. Small rooms.  No room larger than 15' by 15' (5 meters by 5 meters)  (probably #2 in importance....especially for bedrooms)
6. Use concrete block for interior partition walls to tie exterior walls together.  See note below about corners.
7. Door and window openings small, minimal number and evenly spaced around the building.  It is advantageous to have the tops of the windows and doors at the same elevation (see note on ring-beams)
8. No window or door openings in walls within 3' (one meter) of an outside wall or inside partition wall
9. The strength is in the corners (see points 4,5 and 7).  Reinforce the corners with steel wire, mesh or rod laid horizontally in mortar as the walls are built.
10. Build with two ring-beams.  One even with the tops (lintels) of the doors and windows, one along the very top of the wall.  Ring-beams can be cast of concrete/steel rod or constructed of wood.  This is a picture of a structure with FIVE wooden ring-beams
11. Use a light-weight roof that is well tied together (plywood sheathing is recommended) but steel is OK.  See picture from line above.
12. Roof should be relatively steep, 30-to-40 degrees is recommended.  Flatter roofs can act like airplane wings and lift off more easily in high winds.
13. Roofs should not extend more than 24" past wall
14. Hip roofs tend to be most resistant to blowing off.  House with five ring-beams is also a hip roof house.
15. Put the bed in the middle of the room.
16. A decent article about how to make an existing house safer


Saturday, March 3, 2012

We are survivalists who live on a hobby farm within The American Redoubt. In the 23 years we have lived in this region I have yet to feel the ground shake beneath my feet. That’s welcome news speaking as a former Californian who has been through two “big ones”. Yet, for whatever reason (the Holy Spirit, possibly) I began thinking about earthquakes two months ago. Because of this mind set, when three earthquakes, southeast of us, occurred in Utah around the 13th of February and the next day a magnitude 6.0 quake hit off the coast of Oregon. That got my attention.
The Oregon coastal quake had Seattle news outlets airing special segments about the possibility of a “big one” along the “ring of fire” that could cause substantial damage to cities like Seattle, Portland Oregon, Vancouver B.C., etc. They asked one seismologist about this prospect and his answer was, “the good news is that large scale earthquakes on this fault over the last 10,000 years have occurred on average about every 300 years”. “The bad news?” The reporter asked. “The last 'big one' on this fault was 329 years ago." Oh, that’s reassuring.
But we don’t live in earthquake country, we are hundreds (thousands?) of miles and a couple of large mountain ranges between us and “the ring of fire” so no worries right? No, I don’t think that is correct. We have never experienced TEOTWAWKI but we are preparing for that. I lived through an epic ice storm in an area not know for such things also. In fact, portions of the region were without power for 13 weeks from that ice storm. We also had a “fire storm” where none had ever occurred previously.
In the remainder of this essay I will:
1) Describe what an earthquake audit is
2) Review some of the findings of our earthquake audit
3) Review some of the mitigation steps we took to resolve our “audit deficiencies”
4) Share an analogy that I think is fitting
1) What is an Earthquake Audit?
I believe I coined the phrase “earthquake audit”. My version of an earthquake audit was to take a clip board, note pad and marking pen and go room by room; house, shop, outbuildings, everyplace. Using my experience being in quakes plus video’s I have seen of them and trying to visualize what would happen; what would go flying and what would be okay in a modest earthquake. My main focuses were looking “up” to identify things that could fall down with force and looking with an eye to the protection of mission critical items versus lesser important assets. For example having your AN/PVS-14 and Night Vision compatible EO-Tech sight go flying would be much worse than if that large pile of firewood gets scattered. This is mostly common sense it’s just a matter of actually doing it. I made a list of things that I observed to be problematic and then prioritized that list into actionable items.
2) What were the results of our own Earthquake Audit?
Frankly, we failed miserably. Here are three examples among dozens.
Our preparations are extremely organized and inventoried. We have eight of the Gorilla Rack shelving units to store items. I could not believe my eyes (although I should have because I am the one who put them there) when I looked up on the top shelf of one of the shelving units and saw all three of our pressure canners sitting side by side, not in boxes, resting nearly seven feet off the ground on an unsecured shelving unit.
The next “finding” was when I went into a food storage location (with a cement floor) and again could not believe my eyes. We purchase raw local honey from a vendor who sells them in half gallon glass mason jars. We love it as the honey is excellent and you get a half gallon jar to use when you’re done. Also the jars are temperature stabilized in case you need to heat the honey to liquefy it. There on the shelf at eye level was 18 half gallon glass jars of honey on an unsecured shelving unit with the jars right up the very edge of the shelf.
With even a minor rumble in addition to having no honey could you imagine the mess of nine gallons of honey and 18 broken half gallon glass mason jars in one big pile on the cement floor?
The last example was when I walked into the fuel shed. This was an accident waiting to happen. The fuel shed building is built over the top of an underground gas tank. The riser off the tank, 12 volt pump, filters and filler hose are inside the shed. Also inside the shed are shelves and items stacked on the gravel floor. There are metal gas cans, metal 5 gallon kerosene cans, plastic diesel containers a couple of metal 55 gallon drums and a dozen or so propane cylinders. The riser coming up off the underground tank was not protected at all and things were staked up all around it. It wouldn’t have taken much for things to have fallen on the riser likely breaking it. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to have gas cans and propane cylinders flopping about inside a metal walled shed with a severed riser attached to a large gas tank!
3) Mitigation Steps
All of these “deficiencies” had to be fixed. The pressure canners got put in boxes and moved into cupboards with locking doors. For the honey, I secured the shelving unit to the wall and purchased nice plastic totes with locking lids that would hold six half gallon jars each. A couple of layers of bubble wrap on the bottom of the tote then each jar individually wrapped in bubble wrap that was taped in place. The jars were placed in the tote and then shipping “popcorn” was put between the jars. Two layers of bubble wrap on the top then the lid of the tote was securely attached. The totes then were “strapped in” to the secured shelving unit.
The fuel shed got gutted and redone. The fuel tank riser and pump are now completely protected and everything in the shed is strapped down. This was done with 3/8ths x 4” eye bolts and six foot locking tie down straps.
This clearly isn’t rocket science its just taking the time to get it done. Generally speaking; Shelving units need to be secured to something. If not an adjacent wall, look up, is there something above to secure to? On one occasion I had two shelving units at a 90 degree angle to one another. One of the units could be secured to the wall but not the other. So, what I did was attach the units to one another where they met. At the opposite ends I ran a tie down strap to create a triangle from the end of one unit to the end of the other unit, this gave some good strength.
Watch for items that could fall on your head while you are in bed. And some items, there is not much you can do but pray. For example we have a river rock chimney that runs up 25 feet from the main floor through the ceiling of the second floor. I have not idea how strong it is but there is not much that can be done other than building some kind of cradle for it. So if it comes down in a quake it comes down. I guess that’s why you have wood stoves in the shop, master bedroom and back patio as backups. Guns and especially ones with optics need to be protected. My main battle rifle and main defensive shotgun are in metal hard shell cases strapped to something solid. Cushioning inside gun safes are a good idea. Are there items that could fall down behind a closed inward-opening door and block it closed?
4) One way to think about this.
The analogy to this line of thinking is nautical: Sooner or later we are all going to take a journey. Hopefully your journey will be on the good ship “Faithful Survivalist”. We don’t know when we will be leaving on that journey, where it will take us and what the conditions are going to be like along the way. Our sense is though that we are probably going to be leaving sooner rather than later and with the storm clouds we see developing off on the horizon we are not expecting “smooth sailing”. As with any wise captain heading off on a journey of unknown conditions, lets be sure that everything is lashed down; “Everything has a place and every place has a thing”. Because, if the going gets rough we don’t want important items sliding around on deck or falling overboard. Batten down the hatches, mates!
I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t pretend to know the future. I do know that the Holy Spirit put it on my heart to look at our survival stores with a new set of eyes and it was eye opening. I hope you do also and I hope this was helpful.

In response to this posting, while something is better than nothing, I am not a fan of putting up anything on windows or better screws or latches for doors or a covering for windows unless it really adds to equation and the cost is reasonable for the return on expenditure.   As an example, a neighbor added a steel frame with mesh, its costs was about $6,000, it is very pretty with double sided keyed deadbolt and heavy latch/striker plate.  Their security factor went way up, sadly the burglars decided to enter from the side yard and wrapped a concrete block into a thick padded moving blanket and heaved it thru the glass sliding door.  As a matter of security the whole house has to be considered when planning and making upgrades, like the old saying "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link".
I have been planning on security improvements on at least a dozen homestead that I have lived at in the last 40 plus years.  What is the best method for what I am trying to accomplish do.  Am I trying to keep people in, keep people out, trying to stop home invasion, or random burglary, or create an image of a deserted homestead, or keep from outside views lighting in the home, or who/what is in the home.  
I decided I wanted to have coverings for the windows/patio sliders that would stop or at least be resistant to thrown objects or easy access to the home by busting out glass, and also enough strength on doors to resist a handheld ram or sledge hammer.   One thing is to read articles, which is great for a start, but unless money is no object we have to at the end of the day use money available as the most important factor for choosing our solutions.
On regular entrance doors a metal security door is a start, but they can be pried open with a standard crow bar pretty fast (watch law enforcement shows to see how easy they get thru them).  My doors will have a pre cut two 5/8 or 3/4 sheets of plywood which I store in the garage, if needed I simply stand the plywood on the inside up against the existing door, they are held in place by two 4x4s which end fits into a fitted piece on the plywood 2/3 of the way up, and the other end of the 4x4 has a 4" long 1/2 inch diameter steel rod that slips into holes in the concrete floor, thus giving you a re enforced door that is many times stronger than a latch plate located on a weak door frame or hinges that are their weak sister on the other side.  I repeated this process for the french double doors.  I also drilled in the plywood panel a hole that matches up to the peep hole in the regular door.
For the windows, through out the home, Please understand I have the newer type windows the upper portion of the window slide down and the upper portion slide up, so first I put both panel in the center position that gives you about a 1' opening at the top and bottom of the window.  I cut two pieces of plywood to fit the entire opening, putting those in place and in order to hold them there I cut two 2x 4 pieces that overlap the window opening on the inside of the house by about 6"   each 2x4 has a 6" long 1x2 " diameter in the center of the 2x4 that allows you to screw into the double sheet of plywood.  So when installed on the window from the inside you have one 2x4 at the top (side to side) and another at the bottom, because the glass panel are open at the top and bottom.   This method allows me to put each window covering in place or remove in less than a minute.
Now, we still have the garage doors to deal with, these are weakest link (my estimation) my solution was you guessed it more plywood sheets cut to with about 4" wider and taller than the door by attaching 2x4 runners to the top and sides, this is done so that the sheets of plywood will touch the frames on the panel and the 2x4 will touch the garage wall around the door.   I put the panels in place, than I have 4x6  that slip over the plywood across the bottom about 20" off the floor and the second 4x6 about 40" from the bottom and about halfway up.  In order to make this one solid mass, I would roll my vehicles up against the 4x6 giving the whole door a very solid feel.   You would have to measure your bumpers on the car in order to determine the heights for the 4x6 placement. 
Please understand I am trying to deter and delay a forced entry, you cannot not eliminate one ever, so this gives me a warning and time to respond to a potential threat.  As with all security prevention making a window bullet resistant is great in theory, but meaningless if you have a stick built homes as most of us do that is for the most part useless to stop bullets.  I have had friends tell me that they have adopted this method and that from the outside the home gives an appearance to potential threats that maybe they want to look at other pickings.   
I hope that this serves to help others who are needing a idea in order to provide maybe the means to give you an edge.
God Bless us and the U.S. - John in Arizona

Friday, March 2, 2012

My darling wife read the article on Lexan and asked me to contribute the following. My professional specialty lies in the area of windows and doors.

How to Prepare Doors

Replace the short screws (3/4") in the door lock plates with longer ones minimum 3" but 4" would be better. The 3" are # 8 but the 4" are #10 almost twice as strong.

There are two each on the strike plate of the depress plunger and two for the deadbolt.
These screws enter the studs making a considerably stronger safety connection than short screws that only penetrate the light weight trim wood in the jam of the typical door unit.

In our area city code requites rental units to provide blind deadbolts (one sided locks) to prevent entry by service personnel while tenant is at home. These can be installed on any exterior entry door. The strike plates should get the longer screws as well.

Stronger security may be obtained by any of several "security accessories." These center on the use of steel to reinforce the door jams. Lowe's in our area sells a 14 gauge. jam sleeve that is screwed with 6 to 8 3" screws into the jam and needs to be installed under the decorative trim. Other steel reinforce systems that wrap the jam or the stud with the same effect. Most of these require some level of professional skill to finish out successfully.

The very minimum upgrade is the double cylinder deadbolt which requires a key on the inside as well as the outside. This prevents a broken window entry from providing 36'x80" exit. (Some home owners leave an extra key in the lock to expedite normal exit; not a good idea as it defeats the purpose. )

An additional security precaution installs a loud bell on a string that will alert you or a pet of unexpected opening .

Windows - How to Prevent Entry

First preparation lies in the simple process of locking the window lock as a habit. Every window has a lock when new, so use it. If the lock is broken it either may be replaced for free or low cost from the manufacturer. Additionally a turn buckle clamp lock may be purchased for each operative window and installed on the jam in either the closed position or up to 6" up. This would permit opening of window during comfortable temperature conditions. As cheap alternative In lieu of this, a simple self tap screw (maybe #6 x 1/2" may be installed in the jam to prevent the window from opening higher than a stated mount, like 6" up.

Next level of precaution for the windows is to install some type of bars out side the window unit. This also may be installed on the inside of "sky windows' or skylights.

For people who want a more attractive protection we suggest a clear Lexan or Lexan equivalent covering for each window panel. Lexan Window panels Where cost and budget is an issue start on front and/or rear units as these are the most likely entry points for home intruders.

For single units a box type home improvement store sells clear poly propyl window replacement. These come in 1/8", 3/16" or 1/4" thicknesses. Banks of course use 1" thick units at the teller window; but you can easily visualize the result: Clear but great protection. Even 1/8" thickness proves very difficult to penetrate with any thing other than firearms.

For these elements I recommend the thicker panels. The 1/4" will prevent breakage by .22 caliber rimfire weapons.

Where cost and budgets prevail, the thickness may be mixed with the thicker ones on the front or the rear, and lighter ones on the non exposed views.

Installing Lexan Window Panels

Planning : count the windows and measure the out side and inside measurements for each unit. Typically the outside measurements will be a little larger than the inside. The age of the house will determine the type of window. Houses built prior to the WWII typically will have wood or steel frame windows. The planning for each is similar. We recommend that the Lexan panels be installed by screw or blind steel pop rivet for steel units. Measure the inside of the sash (the part that moves) for the size of the installed Lexan panel. The fastener should be installed out side the glass perimeter and inside the frame. sometimes this space is small but would be large en ought to hold a fastener.

The houses built after this war use more aluminum as the aluminum manufacturing diverted from war effort became a cost effective component for the building explosion that took place after the war effort. These units may have the Lexan installed either on the inside or the outside; or both. The upper unit typically does not operate and the Lexan may be successful installed on the outside. because the lower panel does operate and the Lexan panel should be installed on the inside. Again the fastener (Tec-self tapping screws or blind pop-rivets) needs to be installed out side the perimeter of glass on the frame so the window will still operate but not break the glass. .

Houses newer than this might have some variation of wood, wood covered with vinyl, or solid vinyl window installation. For these units the Lexan panel are better installed on the outside of the frame on the upper and on the inside of the frame on the lower. Some type of extrusion can be made to hold the Lexan on the window and removed at times that operator needs to be opened. Turn buckle tabs also may be used to safely remove the paned. On fixed units the panels may be installed permanently on the outside of the frame.

The purpose of the Lexan panels is to prevent breakage of the glass during lawless events, where breakage of the perimeter glass would provide home invasion routes.


The Lexan comes in 4'x8' and 4'x12' when purchased from the plastics wholesaler.

For simplicity the panels may be numbered from the front door clockwise till all units are included. Where there are multiple panels on the same opening, each may be lettered clockwise or upper then lower. Take the measurements that prescribe the windows and place on 1/4' graph paper where the scale accurately represents the finished size of the Lexan panel.

cut out the scaled models of the Lexan panels.

On the graph paper outline the outside of 4'x8" (or 4'x12' which ever is available). the same scale of the window panels. lay out the cut out panels on the graph paper in the more efficient use of the material. This will tell you how much raw material is needed, and which cut out is best used for each sheet. A person could mix or match the panels for the various windows so that the "best fit" is reached.

After the planning for the whole house is completed the budget becomes clearer and the actual cut out of the material begins. The material can be cut with a triple chip diamond blade, or an masonry abrasive blade. For the abrasive blade, the material should be cut approximately half thickness then the break will be clean and even. Full cut will cause build-up of "melted material." Such will have to be ground smooth or polished. Although the triple chip will cost more the results will justify the cost. In all cases cold material (<55 deg F.) is more brittle and can easily break in the wrong place. Warm up for minimum of 4 hours.

All that remains is to install each panel of Lexan on the respective window per cut-out models. Suggest a check-off of the models as the material is cut so that the end result complies with the plan.

I hope that some one finds this useful.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear James,
I have recently purchased raw land to build my retreat. Soon I will begin building a home, and wish to equip it with windows which can resist small arms fire. I can obtain Lexan in 1/2" thickness, and my question is, will I need two pieces of glazing in each window, or three (or more)? I do not think it likely that I will be shot at with anything larger that .50 caliber. Your thoughts on the matter are most welcome. Thanks, - Zoomer

JWR Replies: To begin, I must warn readers that acrylic Plexiglas and polycarbonate Lexan are significantly different materials. Lexan is flexible, while Plexiglas is quite brittle. Some other flexible transparent polycarbonate plastics include Armormax, Cyrolon, Hygard, Lexgard, Makroclear, Makrolon, and Tuffak. So only use one of these for ballistic protection applications, not Plexiglas!

Your intent to use multiple laminations of 1/2" thick Lexan is not without precedent. But its sounds easier than it really is, in practical application. One sheet (of 1/2" thickness) Lexan will stop single hits from a .22 Long Rifle (LR) rimfire, but not repeated hits if they are well-aimed. Two thicknesses will stop 9mm, but they won't stop any bullets at higher velocity. Unfortunately, it would take more than 3" of just Lexan to stop most rifle bullets, and probably much more than that to stop .30 caliber steel-cored AP bullets from a 7.62mm NATO, .30-06, or 7.62x54r. And I would assume that stopping .50 BMG AP or API would require more than foot of thickness of just Lexan, but I haven't been able to find an unclassified source on this. For comparison: the Springfield .30-06 produces a muzzle energies up to 3,000 foot-pounds, while .50 BMG ball produces up to 15,000 foot-pounds! (An unclassified industry white paper Sierracin/Sylmar Corporation is quite instructive. Detailed ballistic protection specifications for military armored glass developed by the US and UK military are classified.)

The armored glass used in many current lightly-armored vehicles such as the up-armored M1114 HMMWV are up to 3.5" thick (depending on armoring generation), and use proprietary sandwiches of transparent polycarbonate plastics and laminated glass. Lighter-weight armored glass made for limousines are even more exotic (and costly), but are still quite thick and heavy.) One of the very best is Global Security Glazing's Secur-Tem + Poly, which has been tested to NIJ Level IV protection against single .30-06 hits. But even this is still 2.11 inches thick, and it weighs 24.38 pounds per square foot. The cost per square foot for this material is quite high.

The most efficient bullet resistant windows are made by bonding alternating layers of Lexan and laminated glass. Note that if you are making your own, that the inner-most layer should always be Lexan rather than glass, to prevent glass fragment spalling. (Just because a bullet is stopped, doesn't protect you from getting splattered with fragments, as the inner-most layer flexes with a hypersonic shock wave.) It is notable that most modern armored vehicles have a spall liner.

So, say that you want to build a house with ".50 caliber bullet proof windows"? Unfortunately, the cost of even .30 AP protection would probably be prohibitive for constructing any residential windows larger that 12" x 12", and even then their transparency would definitely suffer. With more and more laminations, a window becomes progressively more opaque--that is, translucent rather than transparent.

Lastly, you need to consider that the window frame that you use will have to be wide, very stout, and very firmly attached. Otherwise, your window laminate will pop out with the impact of the first shot, leaving the opening unprotected. Windows with narrow or otherwise unsubstantial frames would also be vulnerable to attack by sledgehammers. A wedge shaped cross-section (achieved by making the outer layers progressively larger surface area sheets, and a tapered window frame, to match) is the most effective way to protect against such attacks.

Reader George S. wrote to add: The Schott Glass/ GEMTRON Vincennes, Inidiana glass production line has been shut down, but their production of laminate glass direct vision panels for the recent-generation Oshkosh military MRAP armored vehicles is still in operation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If you do a web search for "hidden entrances" or "secret room" you'll see some photos and video of various novelties like bookcases on hinges and stairways that open up to reveal hidden rooms behind/under them. While these can be a lot of fun before SHTF, especially for kids, I just wanted to put out a warning that these types of entrances aren't really concealed at all in a TEOTWAWKI situation. For starters, if you found these solutions on the Internet, then bad guys can find them too.

Even if they didn't do their online research beforehand, you can bet that looters going through nice neighborhoods are going to figure out very quickly that some of them have safe rooms, and bookcases are the most common type of hidden entrance. Trapdoors under area rugs and safes behind picture frames on the wall are pretty easy to find, too.

You also need to factor in what your house is going to look like after a fire. If your hidden entrance is made of wood, i.e. a bookshelf, it's not going to be there after a fire, and looters are going to see the metal door behind it and wonder what's in there. You're not planning for a fire, you say? But you are planning for TEOTWAWKI, right?

There's no reason to rely on ineffective entrance concealment, because for little or no additional expense, you can create a hidden entrance that nobody's going to find. I will briefly describe one type of hidden entrance that's a vast improvement on the bookshelf door, make a general suggestion about hidden entrances, and then hint at what I'm putting into the house I'm building without giving the bad guys any details they could use.

Turning a basement entrance into a closet with a trapdoor in the floor is a solution that has been described before, but I would like to suggest a few measures to make it truly concealed:
1. Build the closet walls, ceiling and floor out of durable, fire-retardant materials, like concrete. You can retrofit an existing home this way, but the closet won't stick out after a fire if the whole house is built out of said materials. 
2. Make the entire closet floor into a trapdoor, so that nobody can make out the outline of the door. This requires some precise construction, as the edges of the door need to be flush with the walls of the closet. Watch out for scratch/rub marks left on the walls when you open the door. Durable, fire-retardant carpet can be used to fudge the edges a little, and having walls made of a durable material can help. Think long and hard about what two materials you want to be rubbing up against each other when you open the trapdoor.
3. Whatever material you use for the floor of the closet, make sure it matches the flooring of the hallway immediately outside the door. You can be sure that a looter standing on a tile floor in your hallway and looking at a plywood floor in your closet is going to investigate further.
4. Make sure your trap door is every bit as solid as the floor in the hallway. If someone steps inside, there should be no give in the floor or unusual creaks. This part is tough because it works against another consideration, that you need to be able to open the door. Ideally, if you have a floor that's 8-inch-thick concrete, then you want a trapdoor that's also 8 inches of concrete, poured into a steel frame. The only problem with this type of door is that most people won't be able to lift it.
5. Don't have any visible handles on your trapdoor. This can be accomplished either by designing it so that a handle is not necessary, or using some sort of temporary handle that you can bring with you into the basement, so that it's no longer usable for people outside.
6. If your trapdoor is going to be on hinges, then make sure that the hinges are concealed by the door when it's in the closed position. Seeing hinges on the far wall when the closet door is opened is going to be a dead giveaway.
7. Finally, you should seriously consider a non-traditional trapdoor design that doesn't lift to open. Instead, have a heavy concrete floor poured into a steel frame that is mounted on wheels that run on sturdy tracks underneath. Think garage door, only much sturdier and a single piece, not reticulated. When your basement is not in use, the door just rests in place, and doesn't open when people step on it, because it's too heavy to move easily. But when you need to open it, you just get inside the closet, plant your feet on the floor (use sneakers or bare feet for traction) and push your hands in the opposite direction against the doorframe. The floor then slowly slides back, revealing the staircase underneath. Once you and your loved ones are safely inside, you lock the door in the closed position from the inside in such a way that it's held tight and doesn't slide or rattle. One advantage of this design is that you can leave shoes or other items on the floor toward the front of the closet, as long as you don't open it completely, and they'll still be there when you close it.
8. For realism, go ahead and keep some shelves or a dresser in the closet. But bolt them to the wall so that they stay in place when you slide the floor, and make sure they're not so wide that they block you from entering.

If you build an effective trapdoor entrance that resembles a closet floor in every possible way even to a determined investigator, then it's extremely unlikely that a bad guy will find it. Or more precisely, if the bad guys find your basement, they will find it in some other way, for example finding out from your neighbors (you didn't tell them, did you?), or by spotting your ventilation pipes.

The closet trapdoor entrance to the basement described above is what I'm building into my next house, but the basement is for friends/extended family. For the living quarters for myself and my immediate family, I'm going a whole order of magnitude better on the concealment front. I'm not going to describe the actual design of the entrance because I don't want bad guys to read about it, but I will throw out a few general ideas to help fellow readers of think about their own designs.

1. The entrance to the secret bunker is from inside my safe room. This means that after entering the safe room, I have time to consider options, monitor the situation through video cameras, and make decisions. The bad guys won't be able to get into the safe room for at least five minutes, probably much longer, so I can calm down and think about whether I want to call the police, surrender the house to the bad guys and retreat to the bunker, or even come out and fight. Another advantage is that bad guys are likely to stop looking for secret rooms once they get into my safe room. The general recommendation here is to give the bad guys a decoy, something to let them think they've figured it out. Yet another advantage is that I can tell trusted friends about the safe room and tell them that's where I'm sleeping without letting them know about the existence of the bunker. I can also access the bunker at any time without anyone having a chance to see me doing so, if I keep the safe room locked.
2. My safe room has a semi-secret emergency exit separate from the entrance to the bunker. If the bad guys manage to use a cutting torch to get into the safe room, they will find the emergency exit quickly, and note that it's open. That's where they think I went. If I didn't have an emergency exit, they would wonder where I am, and keep looking.
3. My bunker is outside the outline of my house. A bad guy can look at any house and think, "is there a basement under there or just a crawlspace?" Once they find a basement that matches the dimensions of the first floor, then they're likely to stop looking.
4. The entrance to my bunker is concealed in such a way that bad guys would have to destroy some very durable materials to even be able to see that it's there. However, I do not have to destroy anything to be able to open it.
5. I'm having contractors build the basic structure, but I'm building the hidden entrance and some other architectural elements myself, after they leave.

To sum up:
1. Use decoys. Give smart bad guys something that makes them think they've found everything. 
2. Don't use hidden entrance designs that you've read about on the Internet. Come up with your own.
3. Don't make a choice between concealment and ability to resist a brute force attack. Use both.
4. Better concealment is not necessarily more expensive. "Secret" doors that a kid can find can be more expensive than a truly secret door.

There's a lot more that I could add, but I'm going to stop there for OPSEC reasons. I hope this is a useful starting point for readers to think of their own designs. Remember: if you invent, design and build the secret entrance yourself, then it can remain a secret. If you rely on commonly available templates or employ others to build it, then by definition it's not a true secret. - With Regards, - Dale T.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dear Jim,
I was very interested to read about the heated greenhouse in this article. I wondered if people have also tried insulating a greenhouse and designing it to maximize solar gain? I've seen a design used in the Himalayas which allows them to grow vegetables throughout the year despite -25C conditions, designed by the charity GERES. I uses a UV-resistant polythene sloping roof facing south, high-mass insulated walls to store the sun's heat and keep it in, some internal walls painted black and others white to help the solar gain, and finally a manually controller ventilation hatch - though I guess this could be automated if desired. There's a case study including photos at the Ashden web site. Thanks, - M.

Dear Editor:
Check out this web page: Directory:Walipini Underground Greenhouses.

Regards, - Roman

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The key to building an emergency shelter is knowing how to improvise. Whatever the situation, whatever materials you have, if you need shelter from the elements, you'll have to make do. Be efficient; every calorie spent is a calorie you'll have to replace, so build your shelter using the least time and energy you can.
For the purposes of this series of articles, we're assuming you'll be on the move, and that your shelters are truly just for temporary, perhaps even one-night use. If you're going to be in place for awhile, then the rules about minimalist construction are off, and you should make your situation more comfortable, which is good for morale.

Gather your materials

Whatever you have on hand might be useful, so let your imagination run for awhile before you begin construction.
A crashed plane might still be in good enough condition to sleep in. If it's not, you may still be able to recover foam insulation from the seats, bits of carpet, or electrical wire (for binding and fastening). Don't overlook the stitching material in the seat covers.
A parachute, canvas, tarp, or poncho make excellent cover for your shelter.
An overturned lifeboat, canoe, or kayak can be propped up on sticks or poles to provide a solid roof and shade.
Some sort of binding is usually helpful. If you don't have to make your own rope you're already way ahead of the game. Remember Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away? He spent weeks making enough rope to build his raft, and used up all the rope-making material on his island to do so. Stock plenty of paracord in your everyday carry bag and your bugout bag.

Types of emergency shelter

Generally, the parts of an emergency shelter are: Support structure or framework; cover; insulation, and floor. You can build quite a variety of emergency shelters with these basic parts.

Simple A-frame shelter built with sticks and boughs
Simple A-frame. This involves a framework of sticks, a cover, and insulation. Remember, keep it simple, keep it small. Make the tent two feet longer than your body height, and just tall enough to sit up inside. While this seems a waste of space, if it's quite cold you'll spend a good bit of time inside the shelter. (If you're definitely spending only one night, make it shorter and it'll be easier to heat).
If you don't have some sort of man-made roofing cover, like a tarp, you'll be using boughs of some sort. Install boughs from the ground up to the roof ridge, with the stem of the bough pointing up so the rain sheds properly. If the stems are pointing down, the leaf and branch structure will funnel the rain into rivulets that will drip through the roof. Each succeeding row of boughs lies atop the row below, so rain sheds on top of the boughs underneath, and drains all the way to the ground.

A lean-to shelter is simple and can be built quickly
Lean-to. A lean-to is the simplest way to give yourself rain cover. It provides little protection from wind, but it does have a number of advantages, the main one being that it's very quick and easy to build. It also can work as a heat reflector, particularly if you happen to have a mylar blanket in your every day carry bag. You can line the inside of the lean-to with the mylar and reflect the heat of a fire.

Poncho shelter.
Poncho or canvas shade. Canvas makes an excellent roof over your head in case of rain, and also a wind-block that can be insulated with boughs or leaves for cold-weather applications. There are military-style ponchos with grommets at the edges that make it easy to tie it down as a shelter. Some have snaps that allow two or more ponchos to be connected for a larger shelter. Multi-duty items are always preferable, so I like the poncho better than the canvas.
Snow pit or snow bank. In areas with heavy snowfall, these make very comfortable shelters. Snow is an extremely effective insulator, and while direct contact sucks heat from your body, the air inside the shelter will easily maintain temperatures well above freezing. Just be sure to make a thick bed of boughs to keep you off the snow. In a wooded area, dig out your pit from around an evergreen tree such as spruce, fir, or cedar. NOTE: Shake the snow off the tree first! When digging into a snow bank, cut the ceiling in the shape of a barrel to keep it from collapsing. With either a pit or a bank, build your bed on a shelf: this allows the coldest air to sink, and you'll sleep warmer.
Fire-building inside the shelter can be problematic if there's a lot of smoke. If you can close the entrance with a tarp or poncho, a single candle will be enough -- that and your body heat will maintain about 50 degrees (10 degrees C). Trust me; I've done it and been very cozy.
Igloo. This is a specialty shelter. It's only recommended for extended stays or if there's no other shelter available. It requires a specific type of snow; it must be firm enough to cut blocks and shape them for a good fit. I'm sure there are many methods of construction, but the one I've found easiest and quickest is as follows:

  1. Build a circular wall, raising the blocks in a running spiral course up to a dome, and place the "capstone" last, in the middle of the dome. The diameter of your igloo should be about 1.3 times your height, which allows room to build a shelf for your bed. If you're 6 feet tall, that's about 8 feet diameter. If there are two of you, make it 1.5 times your height for a double bed.
  2. If you have a partner, build from the inside while your partner feeds you the blocks. If you're alone, prepare some blocks in advance and build from the inside until it's about knee-high, then finish from the outside. If your blocks keep collapsing, leave a cutout in the wall so you can move in and out of the shelter during construction and stack each block while inside. You'll have to "mortar" each block in place as you go. If necessary, build it as a cone instead of a spherical dome -- this helps prevent collapse during construction. A dome is more efficient, but do what you must to get it done.
  3. Trim the blocks for a good fit, but if your blocks are brittle, don't worry too much about small gaps as you go. You can fill them in later with loose snow. Once the dome is finished, warmth from the inside will melt the interior snow and refreeze it, cementing the blocks in place and strengthening the structure.
  4. Once the main dome is finished, if you haven't already, cut out an entrance tall enough to crawl out on all fours.
  5. Just outside this hole, dig out a trench a few inches lower than the floor of your igloo. This allows cold air to sink out of your shelter and into the trench.
  6. Finally, build a barrel-dome over this trench. If you have a blanket, canvas, or poncho, loosely cover the entrance of the tunnel to stop wind, but allow a small amount of circulation for fresh air. If such a cover is not available, use snow blocks.
  7. It is critical to leave a vent near the top of the dome if you'll be burning anything inside the igloo. It should be about the diameter of your thumb. A piece of pipe or rubber hose left in place is ideal, but you can just poke a hole with any available tool. If it begins to snow outside, be sure to maintain your vent periodically.

Once you know what you're doing, and assuming you're not fighting the elements or an injury, you should be able to build an igloo within an hour. But plan for two, just in case.
You can easily heat your igloo with little more than a candle. If no candle is available you can improvise a lamp with fat or oil and some sort of wick in any kind of pan. Remember not to sleep in contact with the snow; make a bed of boughs, blankets, or extra clothes.

. A properly situated cave will save a great amount of construction time and will provide an effective heat reflector. Remember that stone is a massive heat sink, though, and you don't want to be in direct contact if at all possible. If the best you can find is an overhang, you're still way ahead of the game -- just prop a framework of branches or bamboo and get busy overlaying it with boughs or leaves. [JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog's previously-posted warnings about caves all apply! These include noxious gases and angry bears.]
Whatever shelter you build, remember that its function must meet your needs. It's easy to get caught up in the construction process, perfecting things that are good enough already, and ignoring other important aspects of survival, like finding food water, and getting home.

JWR Adds: My favorite impromptu shelter, at least in the big timber country where I live, is a fallen tree shelter. The root ball left by a large blow-over is a ready made windbreak. Staring with a blow-down, one side of your shelter already exists, and the exposes roots make quick and easy attachment points for a tarp--or lacking that, for a place to interweave large branches or saplings.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
I read with interest the blog today and then clicked over to the link suggested by Brittany K.: Deconstructing a Safe Room (infographic)

I appreciate all the information your site gives. I wish the writers of the Allstate Blog had consulted your site and listed it in their sources. One glaring item in their graphic is that the door opens outward. If debris falls in front of the door a person may not be able to open it. [As has been mentioned several times in SurvivalBlog, inward-opening shelter doors are the norm,]

Another point worthy of mention: In their “What Should Be In Your Safe Room” section they list that there should be a generator. I can just envision someone without much knowledge or experience trying to start and run a generator in their safe room and not have any ventilation whatsoever; a carbon monoxide death trap.  God Bless, - John in Ohio

All Content on This Web Site Copyright 2005-2012 All Rights Reserved - James Wesley, Rawles -
Site Maintained By:
Whiteout Productions

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Retreat Architecture category.

Related Sites is the previous category.

Retreat Groups is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Visitor Map



counter customisable
Unique visits since July 2005. More than 300,000 unique visits per week.